August 11, 2022

West Bank and the Crisis of Legitimacy after Saif al-Quds Battle

Event Account

The June 24 killing of Nizar Banat by the security forces of the Palestinian Authority stoked the already smoldering fire of the social discontent in the West Bank, exposing deep public dissatisfaction to the observers. As a matter of fact, the assassination of Nizar Banat was part of a series of flawed decisions by the Palestinian National Authority in recent months, the first of which was Mahmoud Abbas' decision to postpone the parliamentary elections. Under the pretext that the Zionist regime will not allow elections in East Jerusalem, Mahmoud Abbas announced that the elections would be postponed until the status of East Jerusalem is decided (Tel Aviv agrees to hold elections in the region).

Many believe that Mahmoud Abbas' decision had more to do with his concern about a possible defeat than the status of the people of East Jerusalem. Prior to the decision, many influential figures in Palestinian groups, including Islamists (Hamas and Jihad) and the nationalist left (People's Front, Democratic Front, PFLP-GC and Arab Front), had warned that “Abu Mazen would postpone elections if his assessments point to his impending defeat”.

The move further challenged Mahmoud Abbas' political legitimacy in the eyes of public opinion on the Bank. For many people who had registered to vote in the region, it became abundantly clear that Abu Mazen was solely concerned with maintaining power and the failure to hold elections in the last 16 years as well as miscarriage of compromise efforts by Palestinians (Bank- Gaza Strip) stemmed from his obstructions.

The second major mistake of Mahmoud Abbas was his stance on the recent military confrontation between Hamas and the Zionist regime, referred to in the regional media as the "Battle of Saif al-Quds." Mahmoud Abbas and forces close to him in the organization were critical of Hamas’s military response to the events in Quds, slamming the arrival of the Ghazzawis as a blow to the peaceful struggle of the people of East Quds, and describing Hamas' move as politically motivated to sway the election. In contrast, many Fatah leaders, even within the PA and the PLO, supported Hamas’s military intervention, and Mahmoud Abbas's stance was another blow to his own political credibility and that of the organization right at the height of the war with the Israelis.

The third mistake made by the Palestinian Authority was the receipt of defective and expired vaccines from Tel Aviv, which had all the ingredients of a political scandal for Abbas and the government of Mohammad Shtayyeh. The media made public the PA's decision to receive expired vaccines, turning it into a new hiccup for the Authority, which led to its eventual refusal of the vaccines. It nevertheless made another dent in the credibility of the PA and showed that Ramallah grapples with both functional and legitimacy crises. However, the Palestinian National Authority has sustained drastic financial issues over the past two years due to cuts in US and Western aid, and thus been unable to carry out its day-to-day functions in health and education sectors, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, further exposing the functional crisis in this political institution.

The fourth incident that provoked the rage of the people on the Bank was the assassination of Nizar Banat, a critic of Abu Mazen. His assassination, a reminiscent of the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashgechi, not only startled public opinion in the West Bank, but also transcended the borders of Palestine, creating a complete disgrace to Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority Intelligence Service. The Palestinian Authority's fumbled response to this was no better than the murder itself, and the severe repression and bloody clashes with protesters in the Bank streets grabbed the headlines of the Arab media from Palestine. To some extent, this incident had a negative impact on public opinion in the region and even provoked the US backlash.

Jordanian media claimed that during the recent visit of Mahmoud Abbas to Amman, the US ambassador to Jordan met with Mahmoud Abbas and strongly criticized the Nizar Banat case, saying that these actions prevented Washington from supporting Ramallah.

Event Analysis

"The West Bank is like a parched forest waiting to be set on fire," said Hady Amr, the US president's envoy to Palestine, after meeting with officials during a recent visit. This interpretation shows how fragile the situation on the Bank is, and the United States is deeply concerned about what is happening on the Bank because of its strategic interests. On the one hand, the wanton postponement of elections has tarnished the political legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas, the main US ally in Palestine, and on the other hand, Saif al-Quds has brought a shift in the mentality of the Palestinian people, making it a viable option with the potential of tangible results, which is in stark contrast to the Authority’s insistence on any peace process. In this regard, "Omar Salameh", an analyst on Palestinian issues, told Al-Jazeera that today, countering the power of the Palestinian Authority on the Bank and returning to the option of resistance are the two main pillars of Palestinian demands.

In the meantime, it seems that Mahmoud Abbas is seeking to take advantage of the current situation to cement his position and that of the allied forces within the organization. According to reports, after Saif al-Quds, the organization intensified repressive operations along the Bank to secure greater financial aid and restore communication routes with Tel Aviv and Washington, and is thus trying to project itself as an effective security ally for the Zionists to consolidate its position in Ramallah. According to people familiar with the situation in the occupied territories, Mahmoud Abbas, by magnifying the threat of Hamas and the decisive victory of the Islamists in Palestine, was able to persuade the United States and the European Union to postpone the elections. He also portrayed instability in the West Bank as a threat to the regime's eastern borders to persuade the Israelis to return to the negotiating table and help re-establish US financial assistance to the organization and UNRWA.

Prediction and conclusion

For the United States who does not want the "Tansiq Amni" (security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel versus the forces opposed to the status quo) to be compromised at any rate, the will of the people and democratic governance in the West Bank and Gaza possesses undoubtedly a lower priority than the security of the Zionist regime. US analysts have certainly noticed matching signs between Palestinian protests and those that broke out during the Arab Spring, and compared the situation on the West Bank to “a smoldering fire under the ashes”. Thus they will probably move on to managing the situation, but the question is, what will this management look like?

The assessment in this regard is that the United States, given the existing sensitivities about border stability and security coordination, will not abandon the Bank situation to be relegated into a critical situation like that of Egypt or Lebanon or Sudan. They are looking for a design for the current situation. Accordingly, it is said that there are options for a seemingly a shake-up in the Bank, which is more a change in the faces than a radical restructuring. The most important person billed as the alternative to Mahmoud Abbas in this situation is the incumbent Prime Minister of the Authority, Mohammad Shtayyeh, who has been approved by Tel Aviv because of his good relationship with Hussein Sheikh, who is in charge of security coordination with the Zionist regime. On the other hand, Majid Faraj, the head of Public Intelligence who has a high position among the security forces and can keep the security situation under control as before could be an option for the United States to replace Mahmoud Abbas. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Salam Fayyaz has also been considered for his recent visit to Gaza in coordination with Israel to consult with Hamas leaders, although his relatives have claimed that Fayyaz went to Gaza for solely humanitarian purposes. However, it seems he sought to succeed Mahmoud Abbas and possibly coordinate with Hamas leaders to form a broad-based government. It should be noted that in a recent interview with the Jerusalem Post, Gadi Eizenkot, the former chief of staff of the Zionist regime's army, also mentioned Fayyaz as Israel's most desirable candidate for the PA presidency. But in the meantime, Mahmoud Abbas is not sitting idle and is trying to extricate himself from the current situation by deepening security relations with Tel Aviv and trying to revive the negotiations, as well as receiving financial assistance from the West.


Although serious rumors go around possible changes in the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas has shown that, given his political experience, is able to overcome this situation and remain the number one man in the West Bank; Especially since he is on good terms with Jordan (one of the influential actors in the Bank developments) to be able to scupper the efforts to remove him from power, and probably his trip on June 30 to Amman (a few days prior the trip of King Abdullah of Jordan to Washington) with the help of the King of Jordan to persuade Biden to stay in power and continue coordination to control the situation on the Bank.

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